Graeme Wood

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Dutch ways of seeing

I reviewed Laura Snyder’s new book, Eye of the Beholder, in the Spring American Scholar (subscription required).

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Artful lies

Solar Dance: Van Gogh, Forgery, and the Eclipse of Certainty, By Modris Eksteins, Harvard University Press, 341 pp., $27.95

“People who buy pictures on the basis of authentication alone deserve to be cheated.” Julius Meier-Graefe delivered this expert opinion—a high-culture take on “never give a sucker an even break”—on the witness stand in 1932 Berlin. He was one of Germany’s best and most respected art critics—and, it turned out, a bit of a sucker himself, having fallen victim, along with other pillars of the art establishment, to a young German forger named Otto Wacker. A dancer and art dealer, Wacker had offered for sale 30 paintings attributed to Vincent Van Gogh, some of which Meier-Graefe had authenticated. His verdict had carried a great deal of weight, and the paintings sold rapidly until their poor quality began to raise doubts. Wacker was convicted at the trial and sent to prison, and Meier-Graefe’s reputation fell. But even as late as the 1980s, some people doubted what we now know for certain: Wacker was a fraud.

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A Vanished Heir

The last days of a missing Rockefeller

Originally appeared in The Daily.

Michael Rockefeller, heir to a fortune in the hundreds of millions and the son of the governor of New York, was last seen 50 years ago tying a pair of empty red gas cans to his back and swimming for the shore. “I think I can make it,” he said. Then he swam away from his capsized catamaran into the Arafura Sea, toward the coast of New Guinea, where cannibalism may still have been practiced.

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The Oscar Farce

The Academy Awards ceremony has seen its share of strangeness

Originally appeared in The Daily.

Emil Jannings, the first man to win an Oscar, would go on to become a Nazi. In 1929, the newly convened Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences informed Jannings that he would be honored as the year’s Best Actor for his roles as a Russian officer in “The Last Command” and as a Milwaukee bank clerk in “The Way of All Flesh.” Jannings accepted the honor, but didn’t attend the ceremony, preferring to go back to Europe — he had a German mother and had been born in Switzerland — and in a few years, he joined the movie industry of the Third Reich.

By turning down an invitation to the first Academy Awards ceremony, Jannings spared himself from becoming embroiled in an event that was somehow even duller and less funny than the preposterous ceremonies the movie industry has inflicted on itself for the subsequent 81 years. That first ceremony wasn’t recorded or broadcast, and only 300 people showed up. In the years that followed, ceremonies were dominated by orotund speechifying by such thrilling figures as Charles Curtis, the prohibitionist Kansan and U.S. vice president. If the speeches in the current ceremonies seem too long (they are limited to 45 seconds), bear in mind that in the early years they didn’t even get around to passing out the first award until after midnight. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Olfactory Menace

A brief history of Smell-o-Vision.

Originally appeared in The Daily.

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The Life and Death of Smell-o-Vision

Originally appeared in The Daily.

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